Monday, May 19, 2008

American (And British And Continental Masters): Several Powerful Hits And One Huge Miss

I enjoyed the Chicago Lyric Opera broadcast of John Adams's and Peter Sellars's Doctor Atomic on Saturday afternoon. The music and sonic design was gripping, and the (assembled) libretto effective. If only more Saturday afternoons by the radio could be as culturally meaningful and exciting. The CLO provided excellent supporting commentary for the radio broadcast. [Peter Gelb's exciting New MET Opera will also be producing and broadcasting this American masterpiece next season; while Placido Domingo's Washington National Opera is holding top secret the identity of the American opera that it will be producing, and possibly broadcasting, next season. -- Click here for information on this Wednesday's New MET Opera celebration of American classical composer Elliott Carter.]

Saturday night, since N. was working downtown in preparation for Sunday's International Museum Day, I decided that I should work too; and I trudged out by 'tube' to Maryland to hear the Baltimore Symphony and British composer/conductor Thomas Ades conduct two Beethoven symphonies and his own Violin Concerto "Concentric Circles" composed for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The twenty-one minute, three year old concerto was well worth the trip, as masterfully performed by Anthony Marwood. (There was also a stunning sunset that evening). The new concerto is available for auditioning on MP3s for a fairly small cost ($3.94), and is highly recommended. The Maryland audience also seemed to warm to the piece under the two master leaders, especially as the early dissonances gave way to warm neo-romanticism.

Following the international economic conference on Friday, I almost felt compelled to rush to the Library of Congress to hear a Gyorgy Kurtag masterpiece (Op.44), as well as Bloch lecturer Steven Mackey's new string quartet; until I remembered that the Mackey performance had been cancelled/postponed. I'm still kicking myself that we didn't use our tickets to the Saint Petersburg String Quartet the previous cold, rainy Friday, especially since they -- at the last minute, apparently -- inserted a rare performance of Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet #3, a work that they should be championing instead of Smetana.

On Sunday, I prefaced an evening performance of John Adams's and Peter Sellars's El Nino by watching, that afternoon, Derek Jarman artistically powerful treatment of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

Arriving alone early for the El Nino (N. was again working that evening), I wandered into the Kennedy Center beautiful new Family Theater for the first time and, unexpectedly, heard a superb, lush (and free) performance of Ligeti's String Quartet #1 performed by, if I recall correctly, the young Oberlin String Quartet, in residence now at the Rice University Shepard School of Music. The excellent performance -- part of something the Kennedy Center calls THE CONSERVATORY PROJECT -- was atttended by many alert and appreciative young people of diverse skin appearances and body shapes, and styles of clothing.

Later, Norman Scribner conducted the Choral Arts Society of Washington and excellent soloists in a superb musical performance of John Adams's El Nino to an appreciative fairly large audience. The performance was warmer and better balanced than the performance of El Nino that I heard in Berlin's Philharmonie six years ago.

While in Berlin, they showed the Peter Sellars's video on monitors before, at intermission, and after the performance (a good idea, I now think); for the Washington premiere we were "treated" to establishment genius Peter Sellars's video throughout the performance (as at the U.S. premiere of the oratorio in San Francisco in early 2001.)

I found the video less than masterful. Perhaps 2% was inspired; and the rest was hugely distracting from the beautiful music and poetry, in my opinion. The film project value, in my opinion, fell well short of the achievement of Derek Jarman (for the Britten War Requiem film treatment of 1988) or even Jean-Luc Godard's treatment of mystical themes. (And with all due respect to the late Robert Rauschenberg.)

My own 'Conservatory Project' Assignment for next week: Compare the Renaissance qualities of Derek Jarman's film treatment of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem to Peter Sellars's film treatment of John Adams's El Nino.

The Nativity of the Virgin
15th century, C.E.
135 x 83. Egg tempera on lime wood.
From the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin in the village of Vanivka (Poland, European Union). Lviv National Museum, Lviv, Ukraine (Future European Union).

[Click on image for enlargement.]

"This subject appeared in Byzantine art as far back as the 9th century, its literary sources being St. James' version of the Gospel and pseudo-Gospel according to St. Matthew. All representations of this theme are characterized by their narrativeness and bear, to some extent, the same features. The earliest composition on this subject in the art of Kyivan Rus' can be found in the 11th-century fresco in Kyiv's St. Sophia Cathedral. The main personage, St. Anna (mother of the Virgin Mary), is usually represented reclining on a bed (sometimes she is arising from it); she is surrounded with servants who, according to a Byzantine tradition, bring gifts, bathe a newly-born baby, or are preparing for these action. With time, the composition became enriched with such details like the wall dividing the representation into two conventional scenes. Often the image of St. Joachim (Mary's father) is depicted. The Ukrainian icon renders accurately all the elements peculiar to the iconography of the subject in Orthodox art. The theme preserves its solemn air which is emphasized by pavilions with complicated architectural forms, with veils thrown over them, ornaments and fern-like bushes decorating the terra verde of the foreground."

Image and text credit: (c) Lviv Icon Gallery and Andrii Borovets, M.A.K. Ltd., Lviv, Ukraine. All rights reserved. With thanks.


[This post dedicated to the memory of Lorrie; with whom I performed the Britten War Requiem in 1972.]


[Aide memoire.]

May 14th Luncheon speakers on employment, happiness and poverty in a changing world:

Session Chair: Jack Triplett (Brookings Institution)

1:15-1:35 Richard Freeman (Harvard University and NBER)
“Informal Employment in Economic Growth and National Accounts”

1:35-1:55 Betsey Stevenson (University of Pennsylvania)
“Economic Growth and Happiness: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox”
by B. Stevenson and J. Wolfers

1:55-2:15 Erik Thorbecke (Cornell University)
“The Impact of Globalization on the World’s Poor”
by M. Nissanke and E. Thorbecke (Cornell University)


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